The new year starts with so much new. New goals. New hope. New drive. New perspective.

I love it. That new car smell that the new year brings with it is one of my favorites. (Isn’t it great that we get that twice a year as educators?) For all the conversation on goals at the start of the year, I hear comparatively little conversation about what it might actually feel like to achieve those goals. I think we’re missing this part of the conversation, and I worry that this gap begins to convince us to believe in this sort of formula:

Choose the right goals + Achieve your goals = Leave work with all the teacher feels, all the time

Maybe I’m alone in this, but it’s easy for me to get a little down on myself and my progress at work if I rely on how things feel (i.e. a “That felt like a great day” at the end of the day) to determine how things are really going. Sometimes even when we’re doing the things we need to do for our jobs, it doesn’t feel like we’d like it to feel.

I want to challenge you to think about these two questions:

What does it look like when you are doing your job well?

What does it feel like?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but I feel comfortable saying you should spend some time considering them.

There will be plenty of days that are not your prototypical Instagram worthy day that are absolutely successful days. The work you do as an educator is too important to let the feeling of the day (likely the end of the day) dictate your sense of success.

Have a successful new year!

Your Purpose is Bigger Than Your To Do List

It’s May, and another school year is beginning to wind down.

At home, we have all sorts of events to attend. Author nights. Celebrations. Pre-k graduations. All the capstone events for a school year gone well.

But at work, my to do list seems to grow daily. As the end of the year approaches, the time to get the work done seems to go so quickly. I’m not the only one experiencing this feeling, am I?

At times, I can get so focused on the little details surrounding my to do list that I miss some of the big things that are happening around me, so I’ve done something to try to keep some perspective during this busy season. I made this to help keep myself centered.

There’s nothing bad about to do lists. If we want everything to get done we will probably end up with some to do lists. They aren’t the enemy. But if they take up so much of our view that we cannot see the things that matter most, we might finish out the year and end up with a few regrets.

I don’t want that for you. I don’t want that for me.

So here’s my challenge.

Right now, take a few minutes and write down what your purpose is as an educator. Don’t move on until you’ve drafted something. Really. I’m serious.

At the beginning of each school day, write it down. Don’t just see it somewhere. Don’t just read it in your head.

Write it down.

Declare it to be true each and every day.

Remind yourself that despite the pace of the end of the year, you are in your position for a specific purpose, and each day you are at school, you get to live into that purpose.

If it’s helpful for you, print out a couple of these pages like the image I made above. Use them to capture your to do list as the year winds down, but each day you fill out a to do list, write out your purpose. No matter how big your to do list becomes, it’ll never be bigger than your purpose.

As you finish the year, keep your to do list and your purpose in perspective.

10 Blogging “Rules” You Don’t Have to Follow

Every blogger knows about that time between finishing the post and sharing it.

Each of us spend it differently. I often find figuratively myself shuffling my feet and overthinking minuscule details from my writing. As I do, my mind wanders and I begin to wonder about aspects of my writing.

I start wondering if it’s too long or too short. Wondering if it’s too informal or too formal. Wondering how it will be received. Wondering if I’ve been clear enough. Wondering if my ideas stand well enough on their own. Wondering if I’m sharing anything that’s actually helpful for others. Wondering how people will receive the new ideas. Wondering if they’re actually new ideas.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not bringing me to a total stand still, but I do have a few ideas that have been brought to a screeching halt because I entertained these wonderings for too long.

Thinking about what we’re sharing is helpful, but there are so many times I’ve dwelled on issues that aren’t important.

It’s as if there are some unspoken rules that blogs must abide by. Except most of the ones I have spent time worrying over aren’t actually rules. But the ideas are out there. And I’m here today to debunk these “rules” for myself and for anyone else who might benefit from hearing someone else say these aren’t rules.

1. Blogs are always about 500 words.

Blogs can be in depth explorations of topics that demand deep discussion over 1000s of words, and they can just as easily be brief reflections with word counts under 200 words. Although 500-800 is common, it’s not a rule.

2. Blogs require storytelling expertise.

I have never seen myself as a good storyteller. I see the value of stories and have even written about their power (“The Power of Story”), but there’s nothing about storytelling that comes easily for me. Storytelling expertise certainly helps, but any apprehension here should not stop you from sharing. In fact, telling stories is one of the best ways to improve your storytelling abilities. 

3. Blogs look a certain way.

How you organize your blog is your business. There is so much that is fair game when writing a blog. Write a poem. Draw a picture. Include a tweet. Share a video. Write a letter. Post a list. There are so, so many ways to capture your reflections and share ideas in a variety of forms. I’m not advocating for a structureless stream of consciousness that might be hard for others to take in. But if you’ve thought about what you have to share and selected a structure that will support that, don’t doubt your choice. 

4. Blogs sound a certain way.

You’re not writing for your high school English teacher anymore. It’s not a dissertation or a thesis. You can use the word “you” in your blog. You can sound like yourself. It’s you sharing your reflection. If it doesn’t sound like you, I think it’s actually loses some of its effectiveness. 

5. Blogs are filled with answers. 

There is room to share what you are learning in your blog. Sometimes that means your reflections include answers you are discovering. I don’t mean to speak ill of this at all, but blogging can be more than sharing the answers we’ve uncovered. A blog can be a great place to share some of the questions you are asking. Questions prompt us to think differently–to reconsider what we’ve understood previously. A great question sticks with me much longer than a great answer. Don’t be afraid to share the questions you are processing in a blog.

6. Blogs make you a bragger. 

Blogging is about you reflecting on your learning and sharing those reflections. Are there some folks who might use their blog as a platform to brag? Probably. But sharing your reflections or your questions isn’t bragging. It’s growth. It’s important. And it’s not the same if it never sees the light of day outside of a journal. If you’re really worried about this, ask a friend who will be honest with you to preview the blog before you post. 

7. Blogs are ready to share when self-doubt has been overcome.

If this were the case, I might not have every published a blog. Seriously. I don’t want to exaggerate this, but there is nearly always an element of self-doubt in play when I hit the publish button. Be sure you’re not doing something that’s unwise. Protect student privacy. Consider what would happen if (when) folks at work read your writing; this will be connected to your name forever (because the internet never forgets). Think through if you’re using your blog as a place to rant instead of a place to process your learning (maybe don’t share the rants). But if you’re wondering about whether or not your blog contains a good enough idea to share, share it.

8. Blogs must be perfected before sharing.

Your blogs will not be perfect. It will be ok. Believe me. I literally wrote a book about not being perfect, and I know what it’s like to want your writing to be excellent in its presentation. Some things need to be perfect. I don’t want to be on an airplane with “good enough” cabin pressure. I don’t want to drive on a bridge that has “good enough” structural integrity. But if my blog has a typo, nobody dies. I can revise and edit forever. When it’s done its job–providing space for you to reflect on an area where you are growing and share that reflection with others–it’s ready to share. For more on this idea, be sure to check out Seth Godin’s writing on the need to ship (just one of many examples linked here).

9. Blogs are entirely original.

Give credit where credit is due, but it’s perfectly fine to bounce off an idea from someone else for inspiration. It doesn’t have to do this. That doesn’t make it better. But it’s an option for you. Don’t believe otherwise.

10. Blogs are always for a wide audience.

Blogging is different from journaling. When you blog, others can benefit from your reflections, but writing in a public place where others can see your reflections doesn’t necessarily mean you are writing for all those who might read your work. When I write about things I consistently need reminders about, I do it for me. I still share it in case others might benefit from it (any I sometimes get ideas from others as a result), but I’m not primarily writing with an audience in mind.

If you’ve ever spent time wondering if you should follow one of these “rules” in the past, know that you are not alone and not held to these rules.

Keep reflecting. Keep writing. Keep sharing. 

Do you know others who need to hear these rules? Click here to share this post on Twitter.

Deleting Distractions

I don’t have any time to write. 

(That’s a lie.)

Sure, I’m busy. Most educators I know aren’t having any trouble filling their days. I’m no different, and if you had asked me recently, I would have told you I was pretty focused with my time.

But last week I took a few minutes to look at my phone use. Despite the fact that “I don’t have any time,” I was managing to spend a couple of hours a day wasting time reading Facebook and playing games.

So, I started deleting distractions.

Facebook was the first to go (the app, not my account… the web version is just slow enough on my phone that it annoys me and keeps me from investing huge amounts of time). Then came the games. Sudoku got cut. Wordscapes got cut. Candy Crush got cut. 2048 got cut.

It’s been an instant time saver, and I’ve finally rediscovered some time for something I’ve been missing: Writing.

I can’t believe I’m the only one wishing I have more time than I’m able to find. Does everyone have the same amount of recoverable time in the same corners of their lives? No, but not long ago I would have told you I couldn’t find time to write in my schedule. I would have never have found it if I hadn’t asked myself to look at things differently.

Deleting apps doesn’t magically make writing easier, but for someone like me who will let the lack of sufficient time get in the way of reflecting like I know benefits me, it helps eliminate an excuse.

What distractions do you need to delete?

Giving more than you are able to give

One of the tough questions I am asking myself lately is this:

What (or who) suffers the most when you give your all (or overextend yourself) at work?

There is nothing easy about answering this question for me.

My family and my health take the biggest hit when I overextend myself at work.

My kids notice that I get home later.

I can tell when I am distracted and not really with them when I’m there.

I feel tired.

I get sick.

I miss opportunities that I simply should not miss.

And, unfortunately, I do not think I am alone in this.

This isn’t a problem for everyone

The teacher who excels at meeting minimum expectations does not have these problems.

The teacher who makes no attempt to create relational connections with students does not have these problems.

The teacher who cares–especially the teacher who cares deeply–is the most susceptible to this. As odd as it seems, the educators who are going above and beyond to grow themselves are the most likely to end up on the wrong side of this.

The ones who are connecting.

The ones who are blogging.

The ones who seek out conversation for professional growth.

You’re the ones who are at risk for this. The teachers in movies and tv shows are not.

As long as we are invested in getting the most out of our students and asking the most of ourselves, there are no magical cure alls for this, but there are some questions we can ask to help keep us on the right track.

So what can we do?

I want to challenge you to think about this intentionally this week. Carve out some time to really consider these questions:

  • Have you settled into a pace that you can maintain throughout the year?
  • What’s working well for you at your current pace?
  • What are you giving up to run at your current pace?
  • What do you have control over that contributes to your current pace?
  • Are you comfortable with that give and take in this season?
  • How does your pace impact your commitments outside of school?
  • How does your pace impact your ability to invest in yourself?
  • What does an ideal pace look like?
  • How does your ideal pace change during different seasons of the year?
  • Where is one small place you can start?

You (and potentially those closest to you who you trust to give you honest feedback on this) are really the only one who can evaluate and ultimately decide what the best pace is for you. I certainly can’t project some sort of magical perfect ratio of work to life energy. It is just not that simple. [If you’ve figured that out, please leave that knowledge in the comments. We’d all like to know.]

But with some careful thought invested in this process, I hope to begin to see where I can make the changes that fit best for me and my family. Is everything up to a simple choice for me? No. Much is outside my control. I imagine the same is true for you. Still, I don’t want to miss a chance to tinker with the portions I have control over to make sure I’m finding the best fit for me and my family each season throughout the school year. I don’t want you to miss that chance either.

Too important not to consider

The work we do is important. Though there will be seasons where we will give more of ourselves, we cannot operate out of exhaustion for extended periods of time without consequences. The work we do to invest in ourselves absolutely benefits the students and teachers we serve. We need to routinely evaluate how what we are giving compares to what we are able to give. With the time we can impact, do everything you can to find the right fit for the right season.

It’s ok to fe tired. It’s ok to be exhausted. But neither of those have to leave you defeated.

A pace can be changed. Maybe not as fast as you’d like. Maybe not in all the ways you’d like. But paces can change. Don’t make the mistake of letting the year go by without thinking through the pace you are setting for yourself.

The Good Old Days (or Stop Waiting to Tell People How They’ve Impacted You)

Tonight I’m going to write a letter to a friend who is leaving my school district. It’s her last week, and I have no hope for capturing all I’ve learned from her and all I want to thank her for in the letter.

But I am unmistakably better because I have worked with her.

Better as an educator. Better as a person. Better.

I hope we all get to work with someone who is like that. A person who has made the transition from colleague to mentor to trusted friend.

So, as I sit down to write my letter, I wonder why I always leave these messages unsent while folks are around. Certainly the end of a season together is a reasonable time to share something like this, but why do we wait for those moments?

If you have a person like that, why not tell them today?

Who deserves a letter from you? Who has left an indelible mark on not only your career, but also on you as a person?

What’s stopping you from telling them now?

Why wait for another occasion to tell that person how he or she has impacted you?

End Your School Year with What Matters Most

Beginnings and endings are important. They’re memorable. They stick out to us.

Star Wars: A New Hope opens with an attack on Princess Leia’s starship, and it ends with the Death Star exploding.

Ocean’s 11 starts out with Danny Ocean getting out of jail, and it concludes with him heading to jail (and then getting out again).

The Great Gatsby begins with his arrival on West Egg and ends with Gatsby’s death.

Beginnings set the tone, but endings don’t just come together on accident. There’s something special about a narrative that ends really well.

That’s why concerts end with an encore.

That’s why we remember sports seasons that end with championships (Go Astros!).

What does that mean for us in education? We invest a lot of time thinking through how to begin the school year, but we invest comparatively little in discussing how to end the year well. I wrote about starting the year well in August and asked us to think about what students will remember about us and our time together. I challenged educators to start the year by really getting to know their students as people, not just as students who needed to learn some knowledge and develop some skills. Today, I want to revisit this challenge and apply it to the end of the year.

During the last month of school, learn something new about each and every one of your students that has absolutely nothing to do with their academic abilities.

I know, I know. It seems like there’s not time for this. You’re absolutely right that time is not going to magically appear to make this happen. But I think it’s there. It’s in hallway conversations and quick chats while the day begins. It’s in the conversations we have with students who’ve finished their work, and it’s in the moments where we’re walking out of the building and stop for a quick chat with a student.

It’s there. We just have to find it.

Adding a new habit into your routine on May 1st isn’t natural. It’s going to take effort. Here are a few recommendations:

1) Put a reminder in your phone for the day you go back to school that says, “Kids remember the relationships you develop with them. Who are you getting to know more today?” (Put another one on your calendar in two weeks that says, “What have you learned about your students this month? Who will you get to know today?”)

2) Identify two people on your campus who you can bring into this little project. It’s not always easy to find ways to connect. Don’t plan to go the journey alone.

3) If you’d like others to jump in on this, click this link to tweet out this challenge. The end of the year can get pretty busy, and we all benefit from the reminder to be about the right things as the school year ends.

Doing this just might make a kid’s day, and we’ll likely never know what impact that could have. I hope you’ll take the challenge!

If you like what you’re reading here, you might like my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–everyday every day–that talks about how big an impact our everyday actions really make. Get the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.

Regret Prevention

Think about the end of the year. You will have accomplished a great deal, and your students will have done the same. An entire school year provides so many opportunities for amazing things to happen.

But I’ve never had a school year go perfectly. Certainly there is plenty that can happen that is clearly out of our control. But there are always things that happens throughout a year that I have full control over and wish I could go back and change when the end of the year rolls around.

So I want to lay down a little challenge—both for you and for myself. What do you want to make sure you have no regrets about?

Is it connecting with one particular student?

Is it speaking up about something that’s been gnawing at you?

It is trying something new in your classroom?

Is it taking a different approach to discipline as an administrator?

Is it wrapped up in random acts of kindness?

Is it taking time to take care of yourself?

Is it finding someone you trust to share what you are really working through as a teacher?

Is it connecting with that colleague who never seems to be included?

What is it that you want to be sure you do not regret at the end of the year?

I want to end the year without any regrets. I want you to do the same. But that won’t happen by accident.

I love this quote that’s often attributed to Mark Twain:

What will you do during the remainder of the school year to make sure you finish the semester without any regrets about a missed opportunity this year?

If you like what you’re reading here, you might like my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help You THRIVE as an Educator. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator. Get the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.

6 Ways To Earn Credibility With Students

In schools all over the world, there are students who are willing to work hard for some teachers but not others. Why is that?

I think it comes down to the relational capital that some educators develop with their students. Teachers who have it can get some students to play when others can’t.

Sometimes this seems like some teachers just have an “it” factor that others don’t, but I believe that there are some purposeful steps we can build into our time at school to truly create the connections with students that convince them we have something valuable to say. This operates under the premise that we can’t assume all students respect teachers on principle. That’s just an observation. This post isn’t about whether that’s right or wrong, nor is it about how widespread this feeling may or may not be. What it is about is the reality that we will miss some opportunities to reach students if we don’t take the initiative to reach out.

NOTE: Anytime we address developing meaningful student-teacher relationships, it’s worth adding this clarification: I’m not at all advocating that students and teachers should be friends. That’s not the relationship I’m suggesting here at all. But there is a real need for educators to find ways to develop credibility with their students. Furthermore, I won’t claim that these are magic bullet options that are sure to work for every student (or in the same ways with different students), and I absolutely realize that academic issues surely play a central role in our work. Relationships alone will not do much to equip our students for success today or in the future. Still, I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to see these connections as lynchpins in our overall success.

What I do believe is that there are educator behaviors that put some on the fast track toward developing a trusting relationship with students. For them, everyday interactions become moments where credibility and trust are created and fostered. Not only that, I don’t believe there is much middle ground here (i.e. “the teacher who sort of cares about me”). Either we’re engaging with students, or we’re not. In a time where “kids these days” attitudes are all too commonly held, I think it’s our job to be the educators who develop meaningful relationships in a way that benefits our students long term.

Here are a few of the educator behaviors that fast track the relationships that help teachers truly make a difference for students.

Six Ways Educators Can Earn Credibility With Students


We all know that we make plenty of mistakes as educators, but there is some inexplicable hesitation among too many educators to own up to mistakes–especially those with students. A sincere apology is one of the quickest ways to create a connection with a student. As I’ve heard Jimmy Casas share, “Want to double your credibility with a student? Offer a sincere apology when the time calls for it.” When you make a mistake, take time to model how to come back from that the right way for your students. Name the mistake, take responsibility for your actions, commit to learning from that mistake, and do all you can to prevent it from happening again. It’ll create a lasting impression on your students.

Explain why

I often expected my students to make the connection from what we were doing in class and why it was important for them that day and long after the year was over. Explaining why something needs to be done in class gives students the perspective its importance for the long haul, and it’s a great way to recognize that need that many students have to understand the meaning behind their work.

Model what you are asking your students to do

If you are going to ask your students to do something in class, be willing to do that yourself. If they have to work problems they’ve just seen, be willing to do that yourself. English teachers–think about your practices around reading and writing. Are you asking your students to follow the same rules you follow? Pernille Ripp has written this wonderful post about this that is absolutely worth your time. Getting this right is sure to establish you as an educator who is worth listening to.

Extend an unexpected invitation

I came across this video recently for the first time. In it, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shares about how a simple interaction changed the course of his life forever. At the center of the interaction is an apology (this time from student to teacher) and an invitation to an unknown kid to come play football. Johnson claims the invitation changed his life. The invitation is powerful in any context, but the more unexpected the invitation, the more powerful the impact may be.

Ask for feedback from students. Actually use it.

Ask your students for their input on what you are doing in class. Certainly there is much about what you are teaching that must be included, but how you go about teaching offers a great deal of opportunity for personalization and creativity. I’m sure you’re doing great things in class, but do you have a sense of what is really getting the results and reactions you are hoping for in all those extra hours of planning? Ask your students for some feedback and find a way to include some of their feedback in your future plans. There’s no way they’ll miss the effort you’re putting in.

Show up at their events

If your students are old enough to have school sponsored extracurriculars, take a little time to go see them doing what they love. It does take a little time, but that time is always well spent. Students spend time talking about what we love in our classes, and I never regretted the choice to go and spend time at a play, concert, or game.

Again, we know that there are no magic formulas with relationships, but that shouldn’t mean that we throw our hands up and act like some students simply connect and others don’t. I’m hopeful that these will help you continue to create connections, but I’m sure there is more to add to this list. What else do you do that really builds credibility with students?

If you like what you’re reading here, you might like my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help You THRIVE as an Educator. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–everyday every day–that talks about how big an impact our everyday actions really make. Get the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.

5 Restful Distractions (that might even make us more productive) #TeacherMyth

When looking at the time we have and everything that needs to be done, it can be easy to convince ourselves that the best course of action is always to double down on productivity. That mentality makes us do irrational things like skipping lunch to get more done and staying up far too late to try to pack in more productivity. I know we all have plenty to do, but I wonder if some of our extra exertion really helps us get more done or if sometimes it is actually counterproductive in the long run.

Schools have well defined schedules, and it can seem like the most productive course of action is to always maintain a nose to the grindstone approach. The trouble is that we all have limits, and if we continue to push ourselves to our limits with no opportunity to rest or rejuvenate, we will not be at our best to serve teachers and students.

Rest is hard for me. I want to solve the problems before me by working harder and longer than I thought I could, but I know that I need some rest in the middle of the whirlwind of work to really be my best.

So I want to invite you into the challenge I have for myself: find a way to slip one or two of these activities into your routine this week. It won’t make the to do list go away. It’s not a time turner. It’s not the sort of rest that we need and get outside of the school day, but I wonder if this might give us a change of pace and boost of positivity that will provide us the rest we need to be even more productive as we move forward overcoming challenges and serving others each day. I think it’s worth a try. Here are five ways to rest that might even make us more productive in the long run.

5 restful distractions (that might even make us more productive)

1. Expressing gratitude

Every day in a school is filled with a whirlwind of activity, but in the midst of all those organized events are a multitude of opportunities to thank people. Verbalizing that gratitude makes an impact, but writing it out is somehow different. Take the few minutes to thank someone on your campus. Delivering that message will provide a boost for you and for the recipient.

2. Reflecting

As the pace of work picks up, calendar out (even a tiny amount of time) for reflection. This will stretch some, but I’m going to encourage you to write about what’s going on. Think through what’s been memorable for the past week or month. What are students going to remember from the work you are putting in? While it’s not a requirement, I think it’s great to share some of your reflections with someone, and that brings us to…

3. Intentional social interaction

(I’m an introvert, so I need a little prompting here…) Take a little time and chat with someone purposefully. That doesn’t mean the topic has to be something heavy, but plan it into your day.Stepping away from the work for a brain break is important. I’d say even try to avoid work talk during this time. It’ll help you get to know folks and continue to connect to your peers at work. Armed with that new knowledge of those you work with opens up the door for…

4. Random acts of kindness

Become a force for positivity. As educators, there are plenty of hard days with tough situations. Given the myriad of challenges we face, intentionally adding some fun and kindness into your day will always be worth your effort. Post some of those “Take one” tear offs or some inspirational quotes in staff areas around your campus to make people smile or give them that extra reminder of the importance of our work. Maybe even ask a friend to bring soft drinks by for your team. It doesn’t take much effort to make people smile a bit and set someone’s day on a different trajectory.

5. Go outside

I can’t speak for you, but I spend a lot of time inside. I want to get outside a little more when time allows. If you can manage it and the weather allows, take a walk and get some sunshine.


See if you can roll a couple of these together (i.e. Go with a friend to put encouraging quote cards under people’s windshield wipers in the staff parking lot).

We all have plenty to do, but I really do believe that purposeful actions like these are a wise investment of our time. Our work is important, and while there will certainly be days that are truly just packed to the brim, if we can find ways to develop some of these other activities into habits in our routine, we might end up even better off in the long run.

If you give this a try, drop me a note in the comments about how it goes for you. I’d love to hear about your experience!

If you like what you’re reading here, you might like my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help You THRIVE as an Educator. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–everyday every day–that talks about how big an impact our everyday actions really make. Get the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.